State Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, took part in debating a bill that would allow local voters to decide whether restaurants could begin selling alcohol on Sundays at 11 a.m. The Georgia House passed Senate Bill 17, the “brunch bill,” sending it to the governor’s desk for his signature. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Georgia House OK ‘brunch bill’ to allow earlier Sunday alcohol sales

Sunday morning brunches of mimosas and bloody marys could be headed to Georgia restaurants after the House gave final approval Monday to a bill that could let the establishments sell alcohol earlier.

House members voted 97-64 to approve Senate Bill 17, sending the legislation to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

The legislation bumps the time to begin allowing alcohol sales on Sundays at privately owned restaurants and wineries that serve food from 12:30 p.m. to 11 a.m. Local voters would have to approve the time change before it could take effect.

State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation was needed because some state-owned establishments, including the Georgia World Congress Center, are allowed to sell alcohol earlier than 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Previous iterations of the bill this year would have allowed alcohol sales to begin as early as 10 a.m. and permit customers to buy the beverages at stores. The retail sales provision was stricken from the bill by the Senate.

“We’re delighted after two years that the ‘mimosa mandate’ passed the General Assembly,” Unterman said. “It was a compromise and it’s not quite what we wanted, but it’s better than what we had.”

Versions of the legislation have made it through the House chamber in prior years, but they stalled once they reached the Senate. Last month, senators voted in favor of the bill 38-18.

Speaking against the bill Monday, state Rep. Dominic LaRiccia, R-Douglas, said alcohol leads to many ills, including sexual assault, suicide and fatal car wrecks.

“On my way to church, every Sunday morning, I drive right past a (driving under the influence) defensive driving school,” he said. “Early on Sunday morning, the parking lot is full. I want you to let that sink in for a minute.”

Lawmakers also engaged in some biblical back and forth during the floor debate, with LaRiccia using the Bible to make a case against allowing local governments to decide whether they want to change the time alcohol is sold.

“Adam and Eve had local control in the Garden of Eden and bit that fruit and it was the fall of humanity,” he said. “And we keep taking a bite out of that apple.”

State Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, fired back.

“Is it not true that one of the first miracles was Jesus turning water into wine?” she said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Senate killed several attempts during the late 2000s to pass bills allowing alcohol sales at stores on Sunday. Legislation allowing such sales finally passed in 2011, during Deal’s first year in office.

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